Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll surpasses 180,000

December 11, 2020
| Report Focus News

Brazil passed the grim milestone of 180,000 deaths from Covid-19 Friday, as experts warned the country was undergoing a second wave of infections despite President Jair Bolsonaro’s insistence the crisis was at the “tail end.”

The Brazilian health ministry reported 672 new deaths for a total of 180,437 since the pandemic began, making the South American country the second to pass that threshold, after the United States.

The curves for both infections and deaths in Brazil now show clear signs of an upward trend, after falling somewhat from late August to early November.

Bolsonaro drew criticism from opponents this week for his latest comments downplaying the health crisis.

“We’re at the tail end of the pandemic. Compared to other countries in the world, our government was the best, or one of the best, in handling it,” the far-right leader said Thursday.

Health experts disagreed.

“The president is wrong. I don’t know where he got that idea, but no indicator shows that” the end is near, said Christovam Barcellos, a researcher at Brazil’s leading public-health research center, Fiocruz.

In fact, infections are also rising sharply again. They surpassed the 54,000 mark Friday, for a total of 6.8 million since the pandemic began.

Barcellos warned the situation could get worse still with the holiday season and the southern hemisphere summer.

“There will be more people circulating, without control measures and with many of our social distancing policies now dismantled,” he told AFP.

Bolsonaro has been at odds with health experts over how to respond to the pandemic since even before it arrived in the country of 212 million people with the first confirmed infection on February 26.

He has downplayed the new coronavirus as a “little flu,” condemned the “hysteria” around it and pushed to use the drug hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19, despite a raft of studies showing it is ineffective.

– Warning signs –

Brazil, which endured a brutal plateau of more than 1,000 Covid-19 deaths a day from June to August, had succeeded in bringing its average daily death toll down to about 300 last month.

However, that number rose again above 800 this week, before settling back to 639 Friday.

Intensive care units in seven of Brazil’s 27 state capitals are meanwhile more than 90 percent full, and the field hospitals that supplemented them earlier in the year have been dismantled.

Preparations for an eventual vaccination campaign have been caught up in a political battle between Bolsonaro and a likely adversary in the 2022 presidential race, Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria.

Bolsonaro has proudly claimed he does not plan to get vaccinated himself.

Doria is pushing hard to roll out a vaccination program from January 25 — over the president’s objections — using Chinese-developed vaccine CoronaVac, which Sao Paulo is helping test and produce.

Meanwhile, Brazil has largely relaxed its stay-at-home measures to contain the virus, which were only partially implemented to begin with amid the tug-of-war between Bolsonaro and state and local authorities over how to respond.

Despite the promise of a vaccine at some point in 2021, “we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, with a highly contagious virus that is killing the most vulnerable people,” said researcher Jose David Urbaez of the Brazilian Society of Infectious Disease Specialists.

“People need to protect themselves and not go out and party for the holidays.”